Convening Courageous Conversations
Michigan philanthropy continues to explore and embrace equity within organizations and within the communities foundations serve. As community conveners, community foundations can play a leadership role in elevating diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) learning opportunities and conversations.
Barry Community Foundation is leading such efforts in Barry County through its Courageous Conversations.
Courageous Conversations, virtual community conversations centered on DEI, was a three-part series held between Leadership Barry County, a program of the community foundation, Thornapple Arts Council and the Barry County Chamber of Commerce.
Jillian Foster, program officer at Barry Community Foundation and director of Leadership Barry County, said the national reckoning for racial justice in 2020 inspired the creation of Courageous Conversations.
“For Barry County, diversity means something completely different. We’re a pretty homogenous white community and for us, there’s diversity in socioeconomic status, gender, gender identity and sexual identity,” Foster said. “We wanted to look at diversity from a racial lens but also how does having a diverse group in Barry County benefit all of us.”
The first part of the series featured Ken James, chief diversity officer at Muskegon Community College, who discussed the many benefits of diversity in communities. Nearly 60 community members participated in the conversation.
The second conversation was on mental health for teens and adults and the final conversation in the series focused on implicit biases.
Dionardo Pizaña, diversity, equity and inclusion specialist for MSU Extension, discussed implicit biases and provided actionable tools for community members to put into practice in their own lives.
“We talked about real life skills you can use when having these courageous conversations with people and pushing back to make sure they understand that what they’re saying might not be okay. We learned how to use our positional power to stand up for people,” Foster said.
After the sessions, the community foundation conducted surveys asking attendees if they found the session useful or if they had any suggestions to improve the conversations.
“Attendees asked for more of this type of programming. Most people expressed interest in learning more about LGBTQ+ rights, disability inclusion and toxic discourse,” Foster said.
The goal is to continue Courageous Conversations again next fall in a similar format.
This work also inspired Courageous Conversations Continued. These conversations were intended for smaller groups who want to talk about topics that focus on issues that directly impact their community.
“I led the first session on inclusive leadership, which is something near and dear to me. We talked about why it’s important to have inclusive leadership and not have an echo chamber so we’re not missing different points of view,” Foster said. “We’re trying to build a community around people who want to take action in DEI.”
So far, this smaller group has met a couple of times virtually and will continue to do so.
“We received no pushback from our community, and we were nervous about having that pushback. If you offer it and you get people engaged, then they’re going to want to participate,” Foster said. “I know our privilege and power as a community foundation allows us to continue to have this kind of programming, I hope we continue to find this work important. Without diversity, communities aren’t as vibrant.”
Learn more about Leadership Barry County.
Learn more about how the Fremont Area Community Foundation hosted critical community conversations in Newaygo County.
The Detroit Jewish Funders Network Leads Through Shared Learning, Alignment and Action
Several CMF members come together to collaborate in an affinity network for Detroit Jewish funders to build and strengthen local relationships and better understand local issues.
The Detroit Jewish Funders Network is a collaborative of nearly 25 members including foundation professionals, philanthropic advisors representing family philanthropists and trustee family members.
The network was founded 10 years ago by Doug Bitonti Stewart, executive director of the Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation and Margo Pernick, executive director of The Jewish Fund and CMF trustee.
After attending a Jewish Funders Network conference, an international body of foundations that direct some of their funding toward the Jewish community, Bitonti Stewart and Pernick discussed the opportunity of hosting a network in Detroit.
“It occurred to us we needed a local version of JFN for Detroit,” Bitonti Stewart shared in a blog posted by the Jewish Funders Network. “The region has such a strong community of funders; family foundations, independent foundations, and individual donors. Since philanthropists who see their giving through a Jewish lens don’t all have the same approaches or even the same goals, it seemed difficult to understand the full picture of all the players in Detroit’s Jewish philanthropy scene.”
The collaborative now meets on a quarterly basis, focusing on three objectives: shared learning, shared alignment and shared action.
“We rotate some kind of educational activity for shared learning, it could be a speaker or a conversation that someone has chosen to facilitate on issues that relate to how or what we fund or current social issues,” Pernick said.
The network is based on Jewish values and inclusive of funders of all faiths who are leading Jewish family foundations which also fund outside of the Jewish community.
“Part of the shared learning is looking at the needs of the Jewish community and identifying leaders who can add value to our understanding of Jewish philanthropy,” Pernick said.
According to Pernick, the group examines the specific needs of the Jewish community as well as learning what is happening in communities nationally and globally.
The shared action objective is an opportunity for members of the group to discuss potential collaborations with other members.
The alignment objective is a way for members of the network to come together to address anything else they’re facing in their work.
“One of the things that’s really nice is that we all have a lot in common. We’re all local and at least a portion of what we do is similar amongst all of us,” Pernick said.
Of all the objectives, Pernick said that the shared learning opportunities are the most valuable.
“It’s creating opportunities for shared learning where learning may be enough in some circumstances and in others leading to action. Action could happen in three months or nine months, it could happen when another partner approaches you later in a different venue,” Pernick said. “We sometimes feel compelled to put it all in one package and respond to that entire package when that’s just not how we all work best.”
According to Pernick, the National Jewish Funders Network was inspired by the success of the Detroit Network and now a Midwest regional collaborative is in the works.
Learn more about the Detroit Jewish Funders Network.
Learn more about the Jewish Funders Network.
State Works to Connect Michiganders to Needed Benefits
Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) announced the launch of MI Benefits Center, an innovative approach to assist Michiganders in applying for food assistance and connecting families to benefits.
The MI Benefits Center is aimed at removing barriers to accessing benefits and is currently mailing letters to older adults and others who are eligible for food assistance benefits but are not currently enrolled.
Individuals who receive the letters will be encouraged to call the MI Benefits Center to be connected with a benefits outreach specialist who will screen them for benefits, offer to assist with application documents and submit applications on their behalf.
MDHHS is partnering with Benefits Data Trust, a nationally recognized leader in improving access to public assistance programs by conducting data-driven outreach and application assistance, as well as by providing policy assistance to states nationwide.
In the next year, the MI Benefits Center will invest up to $1.2 million to support Michiganders.
"My top priority every day is to make life easier for Michigan families by delivering change that makes a difference in their lives, and the MI Benefits Center is the latest innovation to help us lower food costs for Michigan families," Whitmer said in a press release. "By delivering additional relief to Michigan families on their grocery bills, we can ease financial burdens for Michiganders, drive down costs, and put more money in people's pockets, putting Michigan first."
CMF members and the Office of Foundation Liaison (OFL) have supported efforts to increase access to benefits for Michiganders.
As CMF reported, the state, Michigan Associate of United Ways, OFL, CMF and several of our members worked to support MDHHS’ MI Bridges, to streamline the system for Michiganders who apply for benefits such as food assistance, child development and care, the Healthy Michigan plan, Medicaid and other critical services.
Implemented in April 2018, the more user-friendly system was aimed at better serving Michiganders, potentially creating a path for more people to access state assistance and benefits.
The changes to streamline the system of delivery included:
• A shorter application.
• Universal caseload management resulting in team-based expertise areas.
• Calls managed by a team in real time instead of a single assigned caseworker.
• One phone number instead of several points of contact.
• Community partner organizations playing a more significant role in connecting residents to benefits and supports.
Read the full press release.